Tag: work-life balance

On What’s Important And How to Say No

The realization that in the history of the human race, no one has ever survived old age is a profound one. Now, this doesn’t mean that we won’t eventually find a cure for ageing, and in my opinion Tim Urban has explained this beautifully. Let’s just for arguments sake however, say that we are not going to live forever, which means that we will someday run out of time in this beautiful world.

That means, that we have to make it very clear to ourselves what’s important to us. What’s going to matter, when we look back on our life? Will it matter what title we have at our company? Or will it matter that we had a lot of fun while we worked, and we got to spend our time with amazing people? Maybe we can do both. But I know which one is more important to me.

When we realize that our time is finite, we also inevitably realize that the extra hour or two we spend working, might not be worth it, if it means missing time with our fiancee, missed snuggles with our cat, a missed workout or whatever might else might be more important to us. Don’t get me wrong – if work is what’s most important to you, then by all means spend all the time you can doing it. I have a close friend who loves his job – and I’m fairly sure he would rather work than not, because it gives him an intense sense of satisfaction, and I still love him all the same.

My point is that our best course of action is to prioritize consciously, so that we don’t end up getting roped into things which we derive no pleasure from. We want to spend our time on the things which brings us the most value. This doesn’t mean skipping out on family get-togethers or only doing things which you want to do, but it does mean that we can say No without feeling bad or guilty. It means that we need to figure out if other people’s opinion are important to us, and if so, why?

Here’s the main point: I can’t decide what’s important for you. I can only decide what I find important and that only applies to me. If I can pass along a single idea from this post it is this:

Decide what is important to you and what is not, and make your best effort to spend your time according to that decision.

What My Worst Job Ever Taught Me About Adding Value

Introduction

Not too many years ago I graduated university with a degree in economics. To say that I was stoked, overjoyed and jubilant would be a severe understatement. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and something I will cherish forever. It took a lot of effort to get to that point, and it was well worth it in the end.

A degree in economics, opens the door to most jobs in the public and private sector, which doesn’t require an advanced technical degree, and I think the idea is that since you’ve proven that you can do complicated math, you are ready to become a contributing member of society.

Interviews up the Wazoo… 

I started looking for jobs immediately upon graduating, and I got called into my fair share of interviews. Sadly for me, I was an arrogant young gun-slinger, who figured every company should beg for a chance to hire him, and this was not the most productive of attitudes, which meant I had trouble landing a job. When I finally did land a job, I quit within two days, because the actual job didn’t line up, with what I’d been promised in the interview, and the guy who ran the company and who was my immediate boss was a massive cunt.

Key lesson here – I don’t want to work for someone who I don’t get along with, or at least have some sort of respect for, and I don’t think you should either if you have the choice.

Anyway – there I was, fresh out of school, many interviews in and one job in, and I was already on the hunt for my second job.

… And finally a solid job (sort of)

The next job I went looking for, I decided to be a bit more picky and meticulous in what I wanted in a job – it had to be something more than just a paycheck. I had a few more interviews and in spite of all my good intentions, I jumped at the first opportunity that presented itself.

This time in the banking sector as a business analyst in the operations division of the IT department at one of the largest Danish banks. If you think this sounds vague, you’re not alone. I had literally no idea what I’d be doing, and neither it seemed, did the people who hired me.

So I’m now two jobs into my career after six months, and I’m already looking for a third job. Not the ideal start to a career, but at least it provided me with enough money to buy peanut butter and some decent clothes, which is a good start, however this wasn’t enough to keep me there in the long run, and something soon happened, which sped up my getting out of there.

Crash, bang, boom

This solid start didn’t last long, because I clashed wholeheartedly with the person who was assigned to be my mentor. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if I’m really the problem here, but I also knew that I could get along with almost everyone, except for these two people who I’d started out my career working for.

At any rate, here I am, trying to make the best of a shitty situation, and it turned out, I actually managed to salvage something from it. I made a few solid friendships, gained a number of decent colleagues as soon as I removed myself from the immediate vicinity of my “mentor”.

I feel like I could probably have had a less eventful start to my career, but adversity is a fine teacher, and I learned a number of things from this, chief among them that it is always up to ourselves to change things we are unhappy with.

When I didn’t like my first job, I quit and immediately started looking for a new one. When I didn’t like the tasks or (some of) the people in my next job, I looked for new jobs  within the organization, and managed to find something that was tolerable and stayed there until I could move on to something better.

Full disclosure, I did manage to find something that I really liked in the end. It took a few tries, but it was well worth it, and I want to share that story, but that’s going to be in another post.

Summary of the lessons learned

I learned that it is always up to me to figure out how I can make the most of any given situation – figure out how I can learn as much as possible and forge connections and alliances, that might become worth something down the road.

As long as I make a point to learn something every day, either about my job, about myself or about other people, then every day is valuable. Although it is probably preferable to be well liked by everyone, that’s a pipe dream – and so is having the perfect job, by the way – and it’s never going to happen in real life, so don’t set your sights on it.

What I want from a job, is work that I find engaging more often than not, somewhere I feel I can contribute to making a difference and the work is meaningful, and most importantly that I get along with the majority of my colleagues and hopefully make a friend or two.

What are some of the things you want from your career?

Let me know in the comments section

On being thorough

One of my greatest weaknesses throughout my entire life was my inability to dig really deep into a problem. I would only ever do the bare minimum to get me through a problem. In other words I would satisfice my way through the problems I faced, and I managed to get through a tough-as-nails university program this way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is something deeply wrong with the system, I am merely saying that this is a reflection of human nature. Most of us are lazy and will do the bare minimum of work. Unless we make a conscious effort to, we don’t have any incentive to do otherwise. In economics, this is known as the shirking model – the best people can do is maximize their income while minimizing their effort.

If this sounds familiar to you, I guarantee you’re not alone. Until very recently I was right along with you in that same boat. It wasn’t until I switched jobs that I realized the value of being thorough. The value of digging deep into a problem and emerging on the other side with a solution which was thought through, or at least which raised some new questions which need to be answered.

Let’s be real: thoroughness is hard. But that is exactly the reason why it is valuable. If you can consistently work through problems in a thorough manner and think through different angles of a problem and emerge with either the answers or thoughtful questions I guarantee that you will move ahead of your peers in seemingly no time.

Being thorough is the differentiator between most of the work people do in modern organizations and the work of the people who continuously stand out from the crowd. If you can move from a place of satisficing work, to thorough and thoughtful work, you will stand apart from others in the best way imaginable.

On putting one foot in front of the other

Accomplishments are a funny thing. We as ambitious people tend to think that we have to accomplish everything at once. For my own part I’ve been guilty more than once of being like the woman with the eggs in the famous H.C. Andersen story. In the story there is a woman who is carrying a number of eggs on her head on her way to the market.

On her way to the market, she fantasizes about how she’s going to spend the money she will earn from selling her eggs. Her dreams get bigger and bigger, until she eventually pictures herself as a fancy lady, and just like a fancy lady would, she throws her head with all the vanity she can muster…

Of course this sends all her eggs crashing to the ground and her dream dies right then and there. The moral of the story is that we have to put one foot in front of the other and not get in our way. If we want to achieve anything we must keep going, keep working, keep grinding – through the dips, the downturns and the recessions. Keep working even when it’s not fun, and keep churning out material, keep running the miles and keep grinding out the presentations.

We have to keep going and never quit. We have to show grit. Especially in the face of adversity, and we have to keep slogging it out and take on our inner demons day after day after day. If we keep working we will get somewhere eventually, but if we keep starting and stopping, we will be stuck in the same spot until get our gears working in the same direction.

One foot in front of the other.

Progress.

Day by day.

That’s the only way you’ll get there.

Grit and the Growth Mindset

The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way – that leaves us”

– Phil Knight, founder of Nike

There are two adjacent ideas in the field of psychological research which are incredibly interesting on their own, but even more so when we explore them together.

Angela Duckworth won the MacArthur award – otherwise known as the Genius Award – for her work with recruits at the military academy West Point. The training that goes on there is notorious for being some of the toughest in the world, and she found that it didn’t matter how smart or physically fit the soldiers were. The thing that mattered more than anything was what she came to describe as Grit. In other words, the ability to tough it out once the going got really rough.

The point here is not that you have to be tough to be a soldier – that is fairly obvious to most of us – the point is that Grit is a predictor of success in almost every conceivable walk of life. If you want to be successful you have to be willing to tough it out when it matters most. Duckworth found this to be true regardless if you were a soldier, a sportsperson, a business man or woman or any other field where it’s not always roses and butterflies.

This research gets really interesting however, when we consider it in conjunction with Carol Dwecks research on the Growth mindset. Dweck found that one of the main differentiators between those who achieve massive success and those who fiddle the strings of mediocrity is the core belief that they are able to grow. In other words that they are able to learn and improve on a daily basis.

This is interesting, because even if you’re not gritty, you can learn to be. Even if you don’t have what it takes to make it to the top of your field right now, you can learn all the right skills.

If you toughen up, stay gritty and focus your mind on learning every day, improving and staying disciplined especially when you want to quit, you can go on to achieve great things.

What’s the meaning of this?

In a famous study conducted by Behavioral Scientist Dan Ariely, he had college students assemble Bionics. For the uninitiated Bionics is something akin to an action figure made out of LEGO.

The crux of the experiment however had to do with what happened immediately after the students had assembled the Bionics.

In one part of the experiment Ariely had his assistant researchers take them apart and put them back in the box immediately after the end of the experiment.

In another part of the experiment Ariely displayed the Bionics in full view, thus providing meaning to the work.

The interesting part however is this: in each of the experiments Ariely asked how much money the students required to assemble another one. The answer – unsurprisingly – came in a lot higher for the students where work was considered to be meaningless.

There are a few important points we can discern about human nature based on this experiment. First and foremost, human beings are happier when their work is meaningful. One might go so far as to say that meaning is the primary driver of the happiness we derive from our work.

Secondly it is interesting to note that we are willing to forego happiness if the pay is large enough. The reason that this is interesting is that when we know this about ourselves we can calibrate our decisions accordingly and use it to become better versions of ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but to me – the cost of being unhappy and doing meaningless work is too high no matter what you pay me.

On improving instead of comparing

All too often I get caught up in judging others, and comparing myself favorably or otherwise to other people of all sorts. Random people I see on the street, colleagues at work who are either younger or older, and who have different backgrounds, ideas, values and priorities than I do.

Sometimes I catch myself in the act and I manage to pull myself back to reality, because the truth of the matter is that there are zillion different reasons why I am the way I am, and the same goes for everyone else. Comparing myself to others is the most fruitless waste of time, this side of trying to travel back in time and correct my faults and misdeeds (something I wish I could have done on more than one occasion) – the point is, that I am me and you are you.

The only exercise we can benefit from is comparing ourselves to our former selves. If I am better than I was yesterday, then it was a good day. Likewise if you can go to bed a tiny bit smarter, wiser, more informed, better read or in better shape than you were yesterday, then that’s a win. It doesn’t matter what the Jones’s on the other side of the street – or more realistically in the apartment next door – are doing or thinking or how skinny they are. They have their own challenges that they’re dealing with – you deal with yours. You improve yourself a little each day. Just one tiny flicker of a percent. Barely enough for it to register – that’s enough for you to make tremendous progress over the long term.

But you have to focus on making one small improvement at a time. Focus on getting a tiny bit better today than you were yesterday, and I guarantee that great things will happen for you over time.